Around the world there a lot of negative stereotypes associated with Americans. These include, but are not limited to:
- All Americans:
- Are fat and lazy
- Are very rich
- Are very loud
- Are rude
- Love guns and violence
- Love to get drunk
- Hate/ have no respect for other cultures
- Are racist
- Are stupid and/or ignorant
- Care nothing for the environment
- Are prideful, narcissistic, and lack empathy
The result of a Google image search for “stereotypical American”
Of course, some of these are true for some people, many of them are not, but the bottom line is that this view of Americans is ultimately a bad thing. It makes people scared to visit the United States and American travelers are treated poorly and charged higher prices. Most importantly it is difficult to break through the stereotypes when we interact with people. They have a preconceived notion of what we will be like, and we have to be on our best behavior to prove that we are in fact decent people.
Especially now, as the world watches us very carefully, it has never been more important to be a good ambassador for the United States. There are many simple things you can do to change the perception about Americans.
- Talk to as many people as possible, and during these conversations be polite, open minded, and listen more than you speak. The best way to change as many people’s opinion as possible is to interact with them! Although it may be taboo to talk about politics in the US, I encourage you to discuss them abroad. Try to learn as many people’s viewpoints as possible, and let it help to form your world view. Ask difficult or uncomfortable questions, and expect to get many in return. Just remember to be polite and do not take anything personally.
- Be quiet and respectful to others in almost any public situation.
- Don’t go out and party then walk around town destroying property, throwing up, or causing general havoc. If you do go out and drink, don’t be obnoxious. I swear, it’s possible.
- Appreciate and observe the local culture. In Asia, respect for your elders is a huge deal. That means, for example, giving up your bus seat to an elderly person if they are standing. Even if you waited ten stops for it. Even if you feel sick. Find out what’s important to them abide by it.
- Don’t gorge yourself on food and eat to the point of being overfull in front of other people. But if you are in Asia, try to finish your food! It’s disrespectful not to. Make sure to slurp and burp too, it shows you like the food!
- Be environmentally conscious. Recycle when you have the chance, don’t throw your trash on the ground, use less water, and reduce your usage.
- Be cleanly in your hostels or at your host’s house.
- Although many people you encounter while traveling will speak at least some English, do not assume that they can! Say hello in their native language, and ask if they speak English first! Many people are humble and will say “only a little bit” when their English is actually pretty good. And afterwards, thank them and compliment their English skills! It helps their confidence and makes them feel very proud.
- If you are feeling ambitious, try to learn as much of the native language as possible! Natives will definitely appreciate the effort, even if you mess it up terribly.
The underlying theme here is respect. Remember when you are traveling that you are visiting someone else’s home. You are not in America, so don’t act like it. Be humble, observe and listen more than you speak, and do not insult or make negative comments about anyone. Show them that you don’t fit the stereotype, and that you would love for them to visit America as well!